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1838 - 1850

Summer 1838

A 26 foot, four-oared clinker, is purchased by Edmund A. Brush while on a trip to New York.  He shipped it back to Detroit where it was christened the Georgiana by Alpheus Starkey Williams, Dr. James H. Farnsworth, James A, Armstrong, and himself.


February 18, 1839

Edmund A. Brush, Dr. Alfred Brush, Dr. James H. Farnsworth, Col. Andrew McReynolds, Alexander H. Sibley, John Chester, and future General Alpheus Starkey Williams, met in Edmund Brush’s office on East Jefferson Avenue and founded Detroit Boat Club. Edmund Brush was elected the organization’s first president and Armstrong its first secretary.  Twenty-two friends and family signed the club’s first charter; Asher Saxe Kellogg, Col. John Winder, Isaac S. Rowland, DeWitt C. Holbrook, Anthony Ten Eyck, George C. Bates, Dr. Rufus Brown, John McReynolds, J. Nicholson Elbert, Samuel Lewis, Capt. William T. Pease, J. Barnabas Campau, and Wesley Truesdail.


March 5, 1839

First formal meeting of the Detroit Boat Club takes place in Brush’s office.


April 10, 1839

The first club uniform is adopted.  It comprised of a chip sailor hat covered with white linen and broad black band; sailor pantaloons of white duck with black belts around the waist; shoes with low, sewed heels; white socks; black, silk neck handkerchief tied in a sailor’s knot; shirts, a blue ground with white figure and broad square collar; and a coat of Kentucky jean.


Summer 1839

The first boat house is constructed at the foot of Randolph Street, behind the Campau warehouse and east of the large yellow warehouse of John Chester & Co., owned by DBC founder John Chester.  The building was a small, two-story wooden structure built over the river, with a boat room on the first floor that was 10 to 12 feet high, and a second floor dressing room. The site is about where Tower 400 of the Renaissance Center stands today.


The Georgiana, rowed by Armstrong, Edmund Brush, Farnsworth and Williams, becomes the first boat to row under the DBC name.  It would be sold in July of the following year to Capt. Canfield for $150.


Edmund Brush purchases a second boat for the club for $255 in New York off the deck of a ship bound for England where it was to compete against the English makers.  It was a 38 foot, six-oared lapstreak boat without outrigger built by Clarkson Crolius and was brought to Detroit through the Erie Canal. It would first be christened the E. A. Brush, and later bore the names of Frolic, Edmund and Wolverine.


May 21, 1842

The first boat race took place along a two mile straightaway running with the current from the foot of Hog Island (Belle Isle) and the boat house.  The competitors were the Race Boat (Alfred Brush, Stroke; E. A. Brush, 2; J. H. Farnsworth, 3; Lieutenant Brooks, 4; A. Ten Eyck, Cox.) and the Club Boat (Geo. Deas, Stroke; J. N. Elbert, 2; A. S. Williams, 3; W. Truesdail, 4; Edward Brooke, Cox.).  Col. John Winder judged the race, which was ultimately won by the Race Boat, the prize being “anything in the shape of refreshments the victors may desire.”


July 4, 1845

While on their annual Fourth of July picnic outing, to Hog Island, members of the DBC re-christened the island “Belle Isle,” in honor of General Lewis Cass’ daughter Isabella “Belle” Cass, who was frequently a guest at parties hosted by the DBC.


May 9, 1848

The first boat house is destroyed by the Great Conflagration of 1848, which destroyed between 100 and 300 buildings below Jefferson Avenue, leaving 300-400 families homeless.  The Frolic (second boat purchased by the DBC) was the only boat saved from burning when members pushed out into the river.  It was stored in Edmund Brush’s stable following the fire. The DBC disbanded following the fire due to an aging membership and many members moving away from the city.


August 23, 1856

A rowing club is founded by George A. Baker, James T. Baker, Warham S. Brown, Joseph M. Brown, Thomas S. Gillet, Samuel E. Pittman, Benjamin Franklin Baker, F. Buttrick, Thomas Sheldon, N. G. Bostwick, An. N. Rood, H. B. Reeve and Selah V. Reeve.  Warham S. Brown was elected president; George A. Baker, vice-president; Samuel E. Pittman, secretary and treasurer; and James T. Baker, coxswain.

August 26, 1856

The new rowing club adopts a club constitution and formally organized under the name of the Detroit Boat Club.  All members of the old Detroit Boat Club are placed on an honorary list.


Edmund Brush donates the Frolic to the new organization, which becomes the club’s first boat, and is re-christened the E. A. Brush, after Brush.  It is soon joined by a new six-oared barge, purchased by the club.  The E. A. Brush is later stored in Brush’s boat house at his Grosse Pointe estate, where it stayed until his death in 1877.  


Space is rented out of a carpentry shop off of Atwater Street between Rivard and Hastings Streets.  The five-foot high crawl space under the shop became the boat room and a room above the shop became the dressing room.  Meetings were held in the office of the draughtsman of the Detroit & Milwaukee Railroad.


September 1857

The famous eight-oared DBC barge Camilla is purchased from Chris Thoms of New York.  This boat was saved by the club as a “trophy of the past” until it burned in the 1893 boat house fire.


Fall 1858

A new boat house is constructed at the wharf of Edmonds, North & Co., located at the corner of Hastings and Atwater streets.  The boat room was fifty feet long, twenty-five feet wide, and eight and a half feet high, containing two windlasses for hoisting boats in and out of the water, racks for oars and boat-hooks along the walls, and a large closet for tools.  The second floor was twenty feet long, twelve feet wide, and eight feet high, and was used as the dressing room with lockers for the members.


December 1858

Four promenade concerts were held at the Russell House to raise funds to pay for the new boat house.  These concerts drew “the elite” of the city and were “long remembered as marked social events.” They were successful, raising the $250 needed to pay off the club’s debt with enough left over to donate $25 to the Industrial School, located at the corner of Grand River Avenue and Washington Boulevard.


Winter 1858-59

Boats are stored in the new building for the first time, being housed on stretchers “one above the other.”



A twelve mile race from the boat house to Grosse Ile takes place between the E. A. Brush, steered by Ben. Baker, and the Camilla, commanded by Joe Brown.  The crew of the Brush won, no times were recorded.

The boat house is enlarged to accommodate new boats.



Despite many members being enlisted in the Army for the Civil War, the club was still listed as being “in a flourishing condition.”  The boat house is again enlarged.


January 26, 1865

The club hosts its first ball in three years (due to the War) at the Russell House, attracting 400 guests who paid $5 a ticket, that included Mayor Kirkland C. Barker, a number of city officials and “a distinguished assemblage of Army officers.”  Guests came as far as Monroe, Saginaw and Toledo.



The club orders a new six-oared, 50-foot shell and a four-oared, 40 foot lapstreak from New York boat builder James Mackay.  Another addition is tacked on to the boat house to accommodate the new boats.


August 12, 1867

Following the founding of a handful of other rowing teams, local oarsmen join together and form the Detroit River Navy.  This organization would govern rowing traffic on the river, as well as host reviews, social events and races.


October 3, 1867

What is believed to be the first time an out of state crew visited Detroit to race.  The Milwaukee Boat Club of Milwaukee, Wisconsin challenged the DBC in late September to race a friendly match between the six-oared lapstreak Milwaukee boat Kionickinnick and the DBC six-oared lapstreak Haidee.  The race was a total of three miles, that was raced one and a half miles upstream from a point opposite the Detroit & Milwaukee Railroad dock, turn around a stake boat opposite Wight’s sawmill, and return.  The DBC boat lost with a time of 25 minutes, 15 seconds behind the Milwaukee boat. Detroit treated their guests to dinner at the Russell House, the evening being filled with speeches and toasts in honor of the health of each club.  


1850 - 1900


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